Sun | Sep 24, 2023

Explosion rocks St Vincent as volcano keeps erupting

Published:Tuesday | April 13, 2021 | 12:14 AM
People clean volcanic ash from the red roof of a home after La Soufriére volcano erupted in Wallilabou on the western side of the Caribbean island of St Vincent yesterday.
People clean volcanic ash from the red roof of a home after La Soufriére volcano erupted in Wallilabou on the western side of the Caribbean island of St Vincent yesterday.


La Soufriére volcano fired an enormous amount of ash and hot gas early Monday in the biggest explosive eruption yet since volcanic activity began on the Eastern Caribbean island of St Vincent late last week, with officials worried about the lives of those who have refused to evacuate.

Experts called it a “huge explosion” that generated pyroclastic flows down the volcano’s south and southwest flanks.

“It’s destroying everything in its path,” Erouscilla Joseph, director of the University of the West Indies’ Seismic Research Center, told The Associated Press. “Anybody who would have not heeded the evacuation, they need to get out immediately.”

There were no immediate reports of injuries or death, but government officials were scrambling to respond to the latest eruption, which was even bigger than the first eruption that occurred on Friday morning. Roughly 16,000 people who live in communities close to the volcano had been evacuated under government orders on Thursday, but an unknown number have remained behind and refused to move.

Richard Robertson, with the seismic research centre, told local station NBC Radio that the volcano’s old and new dome have been destroyed and that a new crater has been created. He said that the pyroclastic flows would have razed everything in their way.

Joseph said the latest explosion is equivalent to the one that occurred in 1902 and killed some 1,600. The volcano last erupted in 1979. Ash from the ongoing explosions has fallen on Barbados and other nearby islands.

One government minister who toured the island’s northeast region on Sunday said he saw an estimated two or three dozen people still remaining in the community of Sandy Bay alone, prompting Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves to urge people to leave.

“It is over time for you to leave,” he said. “It is dangerous.”

The ongoing volcanic activity has threatened water and food supplies, with the government forced to drill for fresh water and distribute it via trucks.

“We cannot put tarpaulin over a river,” said Garth Saunders, minister of the island’s water and sewer authority, referring to the impossibility of trying to protect current water sources from ongoing falling ash.

He told NBC Radio that officials also are trying to set up water-distribution points.

Deputy Prime Minister Montgomery Daniel told the radio station that the damage was extensive in the island’s northeast region, which he toured on Sunday. Forests and farms were wiped out, with coconut, breadfruit, mango, and soursop trees destroyed, as well as plantain and banana crops.

“What I saw was indeed terrible,” he said.

Cots, tents, water tanks, and other basic supplies were flooding into St Vincent as nearby nations rushed to help those affected by the eruptions. At least four empty cruise ships floated nearby, waiting to take evacuees to other islands that have agreed to temporarily receive them, including Antigua and Grenada. Gonsalves, however, said that he expects that his administration might call off the cruise ships since the vast majority of people seem to be staying in St Vincent for now.